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John Fogerty - Revival Print E-mail
Thursday, 01 November 2007
format:    16-bit CD
performance:    9.5
sound:    9
released:    2007
label:    Fantasy
reviewer:    Charles Andrews

ImageWhere to begin … With the music on John Fogerty’s Revival? Or the politics? Or John’s personal journey to get to this point with the best album he’s done since Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Cosmo’s Factory, 27 years ago?

They are, this trilogy, convoluted, compelling, triumphant yet tragically-tinged stories. Each is part of the whole, and adds to your appreciation of the other parts. But, the personal journey can be captured in a book, the politics on posters – it’s the music on this disc that counts the most, and matters to most people.

And the music is great. It’s off the hook. It’s back to pure Creedence, which is saying something, and a minor miracle, but sometimes even more sweet and lovely, and sometimes rockin’ even harder.

– rockin’ harder?! Is that possible? Harder than “Sweet Hitch-Hiker”? “Up Around the Bend”? “Travelin’ Band”?

Yeah. Revival’s “It Ain’t Right” is gonna rip yer socks off in under two minutes, but while you’re groping around looking for them, watch out for that big black limousine barreling up behind to smash you in the ass, ‘cause screaming in right after it is “I Can’t Take It No More,” the fastest, loudest, angriest, badest number John Fogerty has ever done. What made him so fast, loud, angry, and bad? Well, that’s part of that convoluted trilogy. Given the bare-knuckles Bush bashing in two of the songs, the punch to the jaw in a third and inspiration for a fourth, “I Can’t Take It” lays it so smack on the line it makes the “Fortunate Son” of two wars ago seem like a valentine:

“You know you lied about the casualties
You know you lied about the WMDs
You know you lied about the detainees
All over this world

Stop talkin’ ‘bout stayin’ the course
You keep-a-beatin’ that old dead horse
You know you lied about how we went to war
I can’t take it no more

I bet you never saw the ol’ schoolyard
I bet you never saw the National Guard
Your Daddy wrote a check and there you are
Another fortunate son

… Sick and tired of your dirty little war
I can’t take it no more.”

Like Joni Mitchell and Neil Young and a few others recently, Fogerty has said he just couldn’t stay quiet any longer (though that’s not what gave conception to this album). But that’s a relative statement, because Fogerty’s never really stayed very quiet when it comes to his sentiments about war mongering. The title track of his Déjà Vu (All Over Again) album in 2004 condemned the Iraq war as another Viet Nam. (Who else raised their voice that soon?) Not that he’s a pacifist, though Revival’s opening song, “Don’t You Wish It Was True,” is pretty utopian, because in the second song he wishes for a “Gunslinger” to come along to clean things up, “somebody tough to tame this town … there’ll be justice all around.” So Berkeley-born John apparently still thinks of himself as a cowboy, broken down or otherwise, and he’s not opposed to guns … just wants to see them in the right hands. (Actually, in interviews, he’s said it was more the idea of a principled leader who would come in and make things right, and the metaphor of a gunslinger just came to him.)

I can’t gloss over the opening song “Don’t You Wish It Was True” as simply “pretty utopian.” It certainly is, in the way John Lennon’s “Imagine” is, and while not as direct in its message it may turn out to be even more persuasive, because of its sweetly engaging images and irresistible melody and rhythm. It’s almost like a children’s song, in those ways; what I was thinking of when I wrote Revival is “sometimes even more sweet and lovely” than Fogerty’s soft-edged CCR work. It’s a great little sing-along, a perfect opener (though a little misleading).

Following “Gunslinger” is “Creedence Song,” a key revelation in that tangled trilogy, and a strong affirmation that the old Fogerty is back. My only small grouse: it was the perfect opportunity for him to run through every recognizable CCR lick, instead of just a handful of references. Did the specter of Zaentz dissuade him?

“Broken Down Cowboy” is the confessional advice he would have given his wife Julie when he met her 20 years ago: “If I was a gamblin’ man/never would’a let you play that hand/with a broken down cowboy like me.” Good thing she didn’t listen, because John credits her with saving his life. (And she was responsible for the simple, classic art direction and cover design. There just aren’t many missteps in this whole thing.)

“River Is Waiting” is interesting, with its somewhat fatalistic but hopeful outlook, simple guitar lines and tasteful underpinnings from the backup chorus and Heartbreaker Benmont Tench’s organ. It’s a very good song. I like it.

But then something happens. After five slow- to mid-tempo songs (every single one of them gems), it’s like you can almost feel Fogerty mutter “all right! – now let’s git it goin’!” and the energy, the playing and the singing all ratchet up, all the way to the end. Revival becomes a steamroller with a longer amazing string of great songs than I can remember in any Creedence album.

“Long Dark Night” opens with swamp chords bound to perk the ears of any CCR fan, and John tears off the emperor’s new clothes and sends him running butt-naked through the jungle, while savagely caricaturing his nefarious cronies to boot. Some nice, timely harp work here from Fogerty … and oh, did I mention?

The man is singing and playing guitar like a monster. For a guy who had such a distinctive growl shout and scream, the kind you thought wouldn’t hold up five years, he has literally lost not one iota off the vocal chords, and perhaps even become a better singer for the decades of experience. Listen for the nuance, the little instinctive touches. He’s just fucking amazing. At first I thought the guitar playing and sound were slightly thinner than in the Creedence days, but in going back to re-listen I’d say he’s playing meaner, stronger and better than ever. I can’t think of a single other performer who’s lost nothing since their early 20s. Add the songwriting in evidence here, and it’s simply an embarrassment of riches. And he’s 62, for godsakes.

Next is his ode to the “Summer of Love,” with his astoundingly accurate “Sunshine of Your Love” Clapton licks. (For all the people I hear say he’s aping Jimi, I say listen again.) Drummer Kenny Aronoff, a little poppy for my tastes and not the perfectly-matched beat master CCR’s Doug Clifford was, is mostly an asset throughout and wonderfully captures the spirit of Ginger Baker’s playing here, to significantly raise the fun level of this song. (I have to laugh at another comment that crops up about this song: “what does John Fogerty know from psychedelic music? – he played simple rock and roll.” Are you serious?! He was at the top of the charts ’68 to’70, and he grew up in Berkeley. Jeez. And he’s playing Clapton licks now light years better than Clapton plays these days.)

No complaints when “Natural Thing” starts, but it does seem to bring the energy down a little … until, a minute and a half in, John yells “hoo-yeah!” and the band just takes off, Aronoff leading the assault and Tench giving it grease.

Nothing more to say about “It Ain’t Right” followed by “I Can’t Take It No More,” except to echo Dave Letterman (see below, last paragraph) and add that I have never in my life been so thrilled and delighted and enjoyed myself more in under three and a half minutes (with my clothes on).

It’s real hard to follow those two, but it also doesn’t seem like they should close the album, so John wisely offers up “Somebody Help Me” and “Longshot,” musically and lyrically ideal finishers. The pace of the entire album is simply perfect, and that’s a big plus.

For John Fogerty to come up with a solo album as good as even some of the lesser CCR discs was a dream we had all but given up on, yet here it is – at age 62, 50 years after he started playing in a band, 40 years after “Suzie Q,” 35 years after his brother Tom quit and John, in a snit, imposed the new democracy (that nobody wanted) that resulted in awful songs sung awfully on the awful Mardi Gras album (CCR’s last), and a year later saw the breakup of the band and John’s vow never to play Creedence songs again (a promise kept for 15 years, til he sang “Proud Mary” at the Palomino Club in North Hollywood, supposedly at the urging of his bandmate-for-that-night Bob Dylan), a decade after a 22-year period in which he released just one album, and three years after a gap of 34 years between headlining gigs in England.

Not that Fogerty was without recognition all that time. In the last decade he was inducted into the Rock and Roll and the Songwriters Hall of Fames, released some great singles and snagged a Grammy here and there, had successful tours of Europe and the U.S. and sold out Mexico City’s National Auditorium, and was voted the 40th greatest guitarist of all time by Rolling Stone.

But for a guy who, in the midst of the psychedelic era, saw his disarmingly simple, swampy roots rock songs so catch the public’s ear that they turned into six platinum albums and seven #2 singles in a row, all between 1968 - 70, creating an unmatchable songbook that has only grown more legendary decades later on radio/records/CDs/DVDs/iPods, in film, TV, cartoons, video games, sports, books and magazines and throughout the entire culture, establishing himself for many as a national treasure … there sure was a lot of time wasted. How many more great songs were waiting to come through, but Fogerty stubbornly laid down his pen and his guitar and shut down.

He acknowledges it on Revival’s “Broken down Cowboy”:
“A mean horse threw him a long time ago …
Had a good hand but he messed it up …
Saddlebags full of pain
Carries ‘em around
Just like a middle name
A losin’streak waitin’ for dark.”

He responsibly faults himself, but if you dig into the details you cut him a little slack as you find out he’s the Job of rock and roll. His old band members (who sided with their label, against him) should shoulder some heat, too, and do: CCR bassist Stu Cook, with a degree in business, admitted that because of their collective bad judgment they had to suffer under the worst contract binding any major rock band. Their Fantasy label owner Saul Zaentz ripped them off unmercifully and completely (then took their fortune into the film business and became an Oscar-winning major player).

After the group broke up, Fogerty still owed Fantasy/Zaentz eight albums, but after his first, excellent solo album The Blue Ridge Rangers under performed commercially, he blamed Zaentz’ lack of marketing support, and refused to do any more. The impasse was broken only when Asylum’s David Geffen came in and bought out the contract for a million (1973) dollars, but Zaentz further demanded and got all of Fogerty’s royalties from that priceless catalog (CCR sold more than 100,000,000 albums), which led to John’s vow never to perform another Creedence song because it put money into the pockets of the despised Zaentz.

There were a few other things. CCR found out too late that their contract secretly guaranteed the vast majority of their earnings to Zaentz, not the band. He convinced the group to put their money in a Caribbean bank from which he withdrew all his own funds just before it went belly-up, wiping out the band’s savings. He sued Fogerty for defamation when he wrote a song about a wallet-stealing pig, “Zanz Kant Danz,” and for plagiarizing himself (yes, you read it right) for writing later songs that sounded too much like earlier songs that Zaentz owned the rights to. (Zaentz won the defamation suit and the song title had to be changed to “Vanz Kant Danz,” but lost the plagiarism case when John brought his guitar to court and gave a lesson.)

The really odd twist to all this is that Fogerty is now on the Fantasy label again. The story he tells is that when he heard rumors that the respected Concord jazz label was considering making an offer to take over Fantasy, John went to the Concord offices and dropped strong hints that if that happened, he might be persuaded to return. They said Hell-yeah! we may be jazz guys but we luv ya, and the rest is history. John is obviously trying hard to leave his painful past behind and drop those saddlebags, and what more dramatic way than to put the Fantasy label on his music again.

Because Fogerty’s songs have always been so simple, he tends to be underrated when people argue about the best. But take stock: how many American rockers have had a more pervasive and long-lasting influence? How many have so many songs that you just love and can’t help chooglin’ to? And how many have influenced our societal perspective through their music? Damn, it’s good to have John Fogerty back, intact, from his long strange trip.

His music matters.

Awe some. Not to repeat myself, but when the mix allows us to hear that amazing voice and that stellar, unmistakable guitar crunching and wailing, backed by a sympathetic band of players and singers, what more can you ask?

Well, to quibble, the outstanding band could have been a mind-messing one with a few changes, the arrangements and John’s playing could have been just the tiniest bit more expansive, the backing vocals more utilized, but … then we wouldn’t have the delicious prospect that the next one might actually be perfect.

Extra Features
If you go to Wal-Mart – sorry, I’m dedicated to this job but there are some things I will not do – you can pick up their exclusive version that includes an additional DVD with a 30-minute interview and a couple of live performance videos, “Ramble Tamble” and “Keep on Chooglin’,” from this year’s Glastonbury Festival in Scotland.

I haven’t heard the interview but I wonder if it could be as good as either New York’s Q104’s Jonathon Clarke’s, where Fogerty exhibits an amazing memory for events as far back as nearly 40 years ago (including a particular gig at a New Jersey hockey rink in ’69, not ’68, and what he was wearing when he visited Clarke’s home that one time during that one year when Clarke’s dad was doing PR, not for Fantasy, as Jonathan, that night a kid in his PJs, remembered, but as an independent publicist, Fogerty corrected) and reveals how much effort he still puts in to being a better guitar player, or L.A.’s KLOS’s Jim Ladd’s longer, far more knowledgable and intuitive one, clearly between two music legends with a long relationship, which draws out unique insights and perspectives and pretty much defines a perfect artist interview.

The performance videos are good but not that special – not like Fogerty’s recent head-spinning turn on the Letterman show where he blasted the Bushman with “Long Dark Night” followed immediately by “I Can’t Take It No More.” Dave always shows appreciation for his musical guests at song’s end and sometimes it’s obviously strained, but his unabashed glee at Fogerty’s electrifying performance of controversial music on his stage was made clear when he ordered something I’ve never seen, a rebroadcast of that performance on his show about 10 days later. God bless ol’ Dave. Every once in a while, his show matters.

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